(Brief) feelings of contentment.

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Sunday means home.

Home means I had to drive to get there.

Yesterday at 5:30 am we woke up and drove the twelve hours it takes to get from Colorado to Montana, where my mother and I spent Thanksgiving. Then, this morning, after coffee with my mother and gassing up the twenty year old car that still works, I drove home. Listening to the Stone Roses, I felt okay with life, something that rarely happens. Satisfaction is a fickle friend, and I often feel not enough of something or multiple things. Not aggressive enough, not enough of a dreamer, an optimist. Never relaxed enough, always a shade too eager or neurotic or competitive. Never reading enough books or devouring enough knowledge, or not being healthy enough. Today though, as I drove past groves of pines and hawks perched on fences, I felt okay with things. I felt enough for everybody and everything, and I felt like I could breathe. I sang alone in the car, pondered life things, and just was. It was really fucking marvelous.

Pictured: Nocturne in Black and Gold by James Whistler, image via Wikimedia.

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Thankful.

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This year has been tough. It’s been full of thoughts of failure and regret, of frustrations and complications. It’s been rejection, a lot more than I thought, and a lot of patience.

But this year has also been one of thrills, victories, and love. Getting up at 6 am and writing my thesis, slowly punching out the right words in the morning at my favorite coffee shop while saying hello to the crows I passed in the morning. Walking by the sea, my beloved sacred place, and listening to the waves. Having my dad and Ella visit me there in the spring, taking each to my favorite haunts. Going home and looking at homes with Logan, trying to find somewhere that felt like it would work for us. Struggling with my thesis edits and getting everything right while applying for job after job, only to hear nothing made me feel worthless. Making pizzas with Logan in our kitchen, and eating on our front porch, watching the shadows grow as the sun set in the summer. Seeing movies and walking across the Clark Fork river on the bridge, feeling the breeze on my face while holding Logan’s hand. Hugging my mother and sister when I see them and playing with my mother’s dog. Holding a hot mug of coffee in a booth at Butterfly Herbs.

While Thanksgiving as a holiday is a lot of historical erasure, I still took the day to be thankful for it all. For the struggles and the lack of money, which feels constant. For the love and support I give and receive. For the roof over our head and the car that is still running and for the fact that I am healthy and okay and that it will be okay.

I hope that you had a good day of thanks and that you were able to take a moment or two and think about the good things or hold the ones you love.

Fancy pants, one last nice day, and books.

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Montana is a notoriously fickle place. One day you’re basking on the front porch feeling like a queen, the next you’re huddled inside watching snow gather  holding tea in your hands, mentally prepared for the next six cold, unrelenting winter months. But, I did get to linger on our front porch, wearing nothing but a thin wool sweater, these glorious plaid pants, and this Icelandic wool hat that I got back in 2015 in Reykjavik. This hat has seen me through Hell and back, and the wool has always been so warm and comforting. These pants make me feel straight from the 1990’s in the best way, especially paired with the Dr. Marten 1460’s Logan got me last summer.

I’ve been bad at blogging here. My thoughts are chaotic. I feel restless, excited, nervous for the future. This lack of feeling static, of feeling like there are things to accomplish, lists to make and cross out, and chances to feel more alive, is good. I’ve got photographs to send to a lab and see how the prints turn out. I want to photograph more, and I am ravenous for subject matter. Life feels like it’s moving fast, and it’s rather scary but in a good way.

In a month I’ll be in Hawai’i, with a gallon of SPF 75 and a book, with my mom and sister, basking in the warmth like a lizard, soaking it in to save for later. It was a last minute idea, a last minute booking, but that’s often how the best things happen. This morning we made pancakes, with frozen blackberries from the garden this summer, and strong coffee. I’ve devoured two books in the last two weeks. The Round House by Louise Erdlich describes the events that come after an Ojibwe boy’s mother is brutally raped on their reservation in North Dakota. Ada Blackjack by Jennifer Niven describes how Ada Blackjack, an Iñupiat woman, survived on an ill-fated adventure’s trip into the Arctic, and the aftermath of her survival, including fame, fortune, powerful men conspiring around and against her for their own benefit, and how her life was drastically changed.

I loved both books for different reasons. Erdlich herself is Ojibwe and she brings to life the rhythms of life on a reservation and beautifully brings sensitivity and warmth to places that many of us are taught to be scared of. As a white reader, I loved reading about the complex relationship of law, land, and legacy that comes with being a tribal member on a reservation. I loved the realness of it, because I grew up with these grim, 2-D, unreal ideas driven into my head about “the res”. These ideas feel stale, and yet I do not know how to form my own, having not spent much time on a reservation and being thoroughly white. Erdlich gives me a peek into the beautiful, complex, loving, fraught realities.

Niven’s dive into the life of Ada Blackjack is different in that she weaves together a tale of one adventurer’s incompetancies and the ripple effects his bullheaded, optimistic, and cowardly nature have on the lives of men and women around him. Ada’s survival is also her downfall, and the way that she is treated as an object, an exotic “Eskimo” woman from the north, as a temptress and deviant in the press and by people around her, while also being embraced by the families of the men who died while in the Arctic with her, is thoroughly and tenderly documented by Niven.

Anyway, we’re making a Portuguese pizza (it involves boiled eggs!) and drinking a syrah we got last week, after we cleaned the house today and got rid of some stuff. Tomorrow is back to the scheduled monotony of working life, but the added bonus of a paycheck and something to do cannot be overly stressed.

Before all the leaves left the trees.

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Outside our window I can see the almost-naked trees sway in the wind. It’s cold and foreboding outside, and it’s the first snow of the year. I feel glad to be nestled in our house, warm and comfortable. I’ve had some health scares lately and am tired of calling doctors and making appointments and dealing with the what if’s of having a corporeal form.

But, having a job makes a lot of the worries feel less serious. I’ve been getting up early, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and walking to work. The normalcy of doing so is healing, in my opinion, and while I don’t relish the realities of having a lunch hour or watching the clock a lot, it’s refreshing to know that my time means something to somebody, that as I work I get money. Having not necessarily worked with that exchange full time in a couple of years (hey grad school!) it feels so good.

I’ve had some film developed lately and I’m so excited to share it! Here are some frames from when it was still light out in the morning and the foliage hadn’t fallen off the branches yet. I already miss those times even though they still seem like yesterday.

 

The “I finally got a job post!

Thursday evening I was in my house trying to figure out if I should look for more jobs or make myself a meal when my phone rang. I’ve been desperately attached to my phone lately, hoping for good news, and as I picked up the phone I steeled myself for more bad news, or a wrong number, or a telemarketer. Instead, I was offered a job. A real, with-benefits, do-good-for-humanity job! I paused when I was asked if I wanted it, because I couldn’t be sure if this was real!

Four months. Dozens of applications. Dozens of rejections (or nothing at all). Six interviews. One job offer.

I did it! I did it! On Monday I will walk to my new workplace and meet my coworkers. I will be working for a department that focuses on relationship violence/domestic violence, and I am nervous but incredibly excited to get to work with and help people who have survived such circumstances. It’s going to be very intense work and I will be blogging about self-care and stress more, as I think I will have to be very, very careful to not bring work home with me. How do you guys not bring work home with you? I’m planning on joining a gym and trying to learn to meditate.

Anyway, it has been a journey. I’ve been so lucky to have family and friends and loved ones who have been supportive and encouraging, and it would be ridiculous to not point out that Logan has been the best sidekick ever through all of this. Thanks to everybody who stuck around through my posts about this, but in a world where not having a job is often seen as shameful and a symptom of laziness, it felt so hard to not let my status weigh in on most of my day.

One step at a time.

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I’ve been struggling a lot these last two weeks to keep my chin up. I see systems of hate, sexism, and violence that have stood the test of time continue. This week, after the #MeToo flurry, I wrote an emotional piece on not being able to trust men to believe and understand what women go through. I re-lived my traumas inflicted on me by countless men this week. I read horrific stories by friends and acquaintances, and I saw so few men acknowledge their place in all of this: complicit as Hell.

It’s been one of those weeks where you have a painful doctor’s appointment and a job interview, peppered with a couple of job rejections. Real-life shit, the stuff that’s no fun to read on a blog. This last weekend, though, we went on a long walk into the park and looked at all the fall leaves and heard that satisfying crunch beneath our feet. We drank hot coffee and picked out peppers hot and mild at the farmer’s market. I cried a lot and the house smelled like garlic at night as Logan made dinner. I helped him assemble a zucchini lasagna. We got some stuff stolen off of our porch and that was pretty shit, but our front yard currently harbors thousands of brightly colored leaves that came down in the last day or two of wind. I’ve been trying to do my best and know that if I keep working hard and applying a job somewhere will come up, because I have no other options.

Things to think about.

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  • This VERY IMPORTANT CAN YOU HEAR ME YES YOU IN THE BACK conversation about sexual harassment in academia, the silences that departments and professors keep, and the lists and whisper networks (phrase from the incredible Jenny Zhang) that students keep to protect ourselves and each other. In light of the Harvey Weinstein bullshit, which came as a shock to NO WOMAN, I’ve been thinking a lot about patterns of sexual harassment.
    • I’ve been made aware of creepy professors with known reputations before. I’ve been warned and cared for. Not by my department or professors or staff but by students who saw what was happening and let me know to be careful, to limit my interactions, to be watchful, and to be prepared.
  • This incredible interview with a strong woman who terminated her pregnancy at 32 weeks, and the Hell that is getting a late-term abortion in America.
  • The wit and pander that is Hungry and Frozen, a clever food blog of very do-able meals with a plentiful heap of hilarity.
  • Been thinking about how badly I wish I had a job so I could afford to splurge on a beautiful bottle of Galliano and just sip it and watch the world change outside my window.

At the end of the day, here’s what we all need to do:

BELIEVE SURVIVORS OF VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT

DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE

IF YOU ARE A MAN BE WILLING TO CONFRONT TOXIC MASCULINITY AND ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR COMPLICITY IN SEXISM AND HARASSMENT EVEN IF IT MAKES YOU UNCOMFORTABLE. BEING UNCOMFORTABLE IS GOOD. 

Autumnal vibes and keeping my chin up.

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Autumn here reminds me of Victoria in that the humidity makes my hair crazy and my urge to explore rise again. I miss the ocean but the river will do, as long as a body of water is nearby.

Missoula is beautiful, friendly, welcoming. It’s also a really hard place to get work, and everybody knows it and laughs. They feel bad but hey, you chose to be here, so adapt. And I can’t. I’m stubborn and hard working and I refuse to work for less than I am worth. I refuse to apply for jobs that pay $10 an hour but ask for a BA and 3+ years of experience. Just because the work environment allows places to do that doesn’t mean I will comply. So, I’ve had fewer interviews and fewer chances to apply for things. At the same time, holding out because I know what I am worth feels right. I have taken underpaid jobs where you’re over-worked and under-appreciated and expected to do so much, just because your employers know how badly you need this. It feels wrong and it is.

So, in the meantime, I’ve been going on long walks, making photographs, eating good food with Logan, and seeing movies. We went to see the 1937 French film La Grande Illusion at the Roxy last night, and it was spectacular, sad, and poignant. It made me think about war and family and the common humanities we share with each other. This weekend I got to have my favorite Single Malt IPA at the Blackfoot brewery in Helena with some old friends, people who I love dearly and hold close to my heart. We drove home through a freak snow storm, crawling over a steep mountain pass, hoping nobody would be driving like a nutcase and slide and hit us. We saw aspen groves and cottonwoods and beautiful clouds hugging the mountains. Snow-capped peaks and low-slung clouds and all the colors of fall everywhere. Montana, you rascal, you always charm me even when you might be trying to kill me or break my heart simultaneously.

#WorldTeachersDay: In memorium.

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Hieronymous Bosch, closing panels of The Garden of Earthy Delights triptych. 

We moved to Montana when I was in second grade. I was skinny, awkward, and spent my days buried in books and authoring things on cheetahs, because cheetahs were the goddamn coolest animals to ever exist. My parents put me through lots of aptitude tests, which determined that I should skip a grade to continue to be academically challenged, but I was socially behind my peers due to my shyness and propensity for hiding with a book. Talking was hard with people my age, and making friends was absolutely terrifying.

Third grade came. I was assigned to be with Ms. Marcella Burke, a boisterous red-headed teacher who was so full of encouragement and love for us all it was sometimes overwhelming. I was young, too young for my memories to stand on their own in some ways, but she made me feel like excelling wasn’t nerdy or to be frowned on. She rewarded us with trips to meet important politicians such as the lieutenant governor and the governor. She had us put on plays, and we memorized lines, worked hard, and took pride in what we did. She spent her own money to buy things to reward us for our hard work, even as a single mom. She reminded us that every one of us had so much to offer the world, no matter our background or our challenges.

Ms. Burke was a proud Butte-born Irishwoman who talked about being bullied as a kid and being called “Marshmallow” instead of Marcella. I remember her as being inspiring and tall, even if she was in fact short. She made me proud of myself, and I wanted to make her proud in return. I remember losing my front teeth that year, and being dressed in horrible sweaters. It was the first time I remember being bullied as well, and feeling frustrated and ugly, something to be teased and remarked on. Books were my refuge, and Ms. Burke’s classroom was as well. She encouraged me to keep reading, and after school had ended, she invited my mother and me over to her house in early summer in a neighborhood nearby to talk to my mom about me, about plans for me, because apparently Ms. Burke saw something. Ms. Burke had recently been to Ireland and brought me back a postcard with the Gaelic alphabet on it, which I still have, and several coins, all in a beautiful white Irish lace bag. I ate brownies and sat patiently while they talked, because adults needed quiet sometimes. What I didn’t know was that she was already getting sick. Ms. Burke stopped teaching the next year or the year after, and she died in 2002 due to ovarian cancer, which my mother told me gently. I don’t remember my reaction, but the idea that she was no longer on the Earth was so foreign to me. How could somebody so intelligent, sturdy, hardy, and loving, ever leave?

Although I was young, too young to thank her in the ways that I wish I could, to this day I remember feeling like Ms. Burke saw something in me that nobody had yet. She saw somebody with potential, who was too smart for their own good and too awkward to show it in any way that mattered. She made me feel that my love of learning and reading were normal, and she assured me that I could go anywhere with literature. I wish she hadn’t died so young, and I dearly wish I could thank her for everything she’s done for me. I still have the coins and the postcard somewhere, squirreled away as mementos to a remarkable woman who made a serious impact on me, even when I was young and not necessarily paying attention. Marcella Burke, you incredible soul, I am so glad that you graced my life at a time when I really, really needed it.

Reclaiming autumn and my memories.

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A few of them were taken on a beautiful, bare peak high up in the Gallatin National Forest. I remember how a lightning storm came in quickly over the mountains, and it made the air feel strange, and how the rain came down in fat, shameless drops, dribbling down the steep hillside while I ran to the car to escape. I remember being scared and excited by the fast-changing mountain weather, and how with the sunset the temperature dropped quickly. I remember getting my film back and being so pleased with the colors, with the memories they would bring me in the future.

Some others are taken on another part of that massive national forest, up behind Chico Hot Springs. There was a burn area, full of skeleton-like trees, with a creek running through this sterile-seeming landscape, in colors muted by the clouds. My hair was wet and my skin was parched from soaking in the hot springs, and I wanted to lay down and take a nap surrounded by the silence of the place. It was beautiful and so eerie.

I also visited my sister while she was working in Yellowstone breaking up bear jams, ticketing tourists, sharing a cabin with a wicked roommate, and spending time with wolf biologists, who are a consistently strange people.  Some of the dudes offered to share moonshine they made in their bathtubs, and I heard tales of moving dead bison, meeting the oddest visitors, and talking to the wolf photographers who spend their lives following wolf packs in the Lamar Valley. On my way home, I stopped in Livingston to drop off some library books for her (Livingston was the nearest town to Yellowstone with a library), and walked around town for the day, having the most amazing honey peach pie in a little bakery while reading an old issue of National Geographic and buying the second book in the Dune series from a secondhand bookshop. It was a weirdly warm day and the town wasn’t its usual, windy self. I drove around the quiet neighborhoods of the tiny town and marveled at the mountains, taking my time getting home to my apartment driving over the mountain pass. Fat, fluffy clouds abounded that day. It was a textbook perfect day in my mind.

I also spent time in Hyalite Canyon by myself for the first time that fall. I went hiking and found footprints and encountered dogs and hikers and smelled the fresh air as much as possible. Bozeman, while being a money-soaked place that I have come to loathe, has access to some of the best wilderness close by, where moose and bear roam on the National Forest, and where your access to Yellowstone is literally two hours away. It was a joy to be able to hike in the morning with the sun streaming in in the most loving, welcoming way. I remember feeling like I was at peace with the world on those brief hikes.

That’s the tricky thing about memory. As a historian, I have learned that memories change quickly and easily, and are heavily susceptible to fast re-writing and shifting. It doesn’t help that our minds are wired to remember the negative things the best as a survival tool. It’s very difficult to recover from negative memories and to not think about those dark corners of your mind where you’ve stashed all the shit, the sticky, messy tarpit of awful. For me to be able to look at these pictures and not think about somebody is a victory in more ways than one. I did not make these photographs for anybody but myself, and they are mine to reclaim, recover, and enjoy. I’m sharing them with y’all so that perhaps you can, too.

A bit of history in expired film.

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I met Ella on a fall day in 2014. My friend Charlotte had told me that her childhood best friend was moving back to Helena and didn’t know a lot of people, and would I like to meet her? I was working a job where my favorite coworker had just left (thank you Kevin for making the front desk livable!) and had almost no friends in Helena. I said yes please, naturally, because as much as I liked being an introvert it wasn’t sustainable.

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Ella and I chatted for over two hours the first time we met at the Blackfoot Brewery, while I was working a job I resented for money I needed. It was my first fall back in my home town, and I was making my home in my parent’s basement while I saved cash for graduate school. It was almost necessary that I met Ella, because if I had not met somebody I think I would have sunken even further down than I felt at that point. Alone, but unable to be truly alone, and twenty-three, I felt suffocated, terrified, and so, so hollow. My joys were long solo walks around the Mansion District, walking by Romanesque arches and Gothic windows and Italianate architecture that people from all over came to build in Helena, Montana. I found leaf piles beside the Myrna Loy Theater to step in and crunch, and I often sat with a book at the local Starbucks until they closed at 10 pm on weekends (no other coffee shop stayed open after 6pm in my small hometown). Life was dull beyond words, and I felt like a machine. Finding one person who seemed like they could help revert me from my corpse-like state was amazing.

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Since then, Ella and I have pursued adventures of our own but always managed to reconnect. This is somebody I have feverishly danced with, spent hours reading with, and in general feel a sense of kinship with that will always be important to simply because the timing of her arrival in my life was really important. A few weekends ago we finally, after discussing it for a year or two, used a whole roll of expired film I was saving just for making photographs. Ella’s cheekbones are unrivaled and she has the loveliest mouth, and with her Morticia-vibes hair it was so good to photograph her. I want to do it again soon! 36518519464_f9916ba3ff_c37315521871_edbf9681b1_c37458147975_f9b4d724cd_c36518520804_8069a56f8a_c

 

An ode to pizza and love.

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At least once a week, we make pizza. We use leftover veggies, meats, and whatever else we have in the fridge, and whip up pizza in our oven. We tear it apart and often eat too much. Now, pizza is old. It was imported to Italy from Greece way back in the day (i.e. thousands of years ago), and the epic combination of dough + sauce + toppings has reveled in our mouths ever since.

For me, pizza brings back so many memories. Ordering a pizza from Domino’s for a sleepover or those rare evenings when my parents just gave up, which was a treat in my childhood, brings back memories of having the warm box heat up my lap in the car, and opening it in the kitchen to waft in the rich smells. I would play with the plastic stands that came in the boxes and make them into tables for my little animals and toys. Later, pizza became a menace- a fattening monster that was delicious and ominous, full of grease and guilt, something my more-and-more aware teenage girl self was terrified of. Fat, grease, oil, calories. I watched my mother soak up the grease on napkins, and I knew that if I wanted to be attractive, pizza would fuck me over. Self-loathing made me loath pizza, and whenever it was at a party or a celebration of some sort, I remember skirting around it nearby, fearing what it would do to me. I hate thinking about those times, when my relationship with my body was so negative and full of awareness of being watched and policed.

Then, when I moved to Switzerland, I realized I never knew what real pizza was. I knew doughy, overly cheesy creations laced with slightly artificial smells. I knew of chains in the mall, slices simmering from hot surfaces next to the Dillards department store. Now, my friends and I would walk to the Spaghetti Store in downtown Lugano, where we could literally see the lights from an Italian town across the lake. We ordered pizza con mascarpone, prosciutto, e rocket, and un litro di vino tavolo, sharing chewy slices of pizza and sipping cheap wine, and letting the prosciutto and mascarpone do a dance with my taste buds. I remember fondly feeling warm, loved, and so so happy.

Now, in Montana, I watch Logan make dough, twisting and stretching and rolling it, flour on his sleeves. We chop garlic, lots and lots of garlic, and get out semolina flour to coat the pizza stone. Tomato sauce and a fresh ball of mozzarella lie nearby, and I occasionally tear off a small bit of the cheese to taste while Logan preps. We have cheap wine in odd glasses now, as our wine glasses have been broken by a clumsy gesture or two. We usually make two pizzas, thin-crusted and beautifully covered with onions, mushrooms, arugula, sardines, olives, and whatever else we want.

Ultimately, after having made dozens of pizzas with friends and family, I would narrow what makes good pizza down to a few things:

-Good dough, preferably made fresh.

-Good tomato sauce (Cento and Pomi both make good canned/boxed tomato sauces) that you can salt/pepper/flavor yoursef.

-Garlic, lots of garlic.

-Somebody you care about a lot nearby, and more people you love waiting to feast also nearby. You can also make pizza alone but you are not allowed to feel sad about it. It will ruin the taste of the pizza.

-A hot oven.

-Love and respect for yourself and the food you’re making with your two capable hands.

There you go. Now go make some pizza!

L’Autunno e qui!!!

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Hello, fellow internet dwellers! I’ve been off the grid a bit (I’m always more active on Instagram honestly) but I hope autumn or spring has been treating you all well wherever on the globe you reside!

What I’ve been doing:

Spending lots of time drinking coffee, editing cover letters, and people watching at Butterfly Herbs.

Hosting humans in our home, most notably having two Australians in our home!

Drinking some good local beer (here’s looking at you, Fresh Bongwater Hemp Ale!)

Starting multiple books and re-reading others, like Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, which always makes me cry. Her way with words is unspeakably poignant and she digs under layers of emotions that you didn’t know you were feeling at the moment. The way that she writes makes you grieve as she does, and it was a bestseller for a good reason.

Writing almost every day in my diary. This is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time and I’ve been fairly good at it recently.

Sleeping at least eight hours a night (or at least trying).

Re-watching Mad Men and having all the thoughts. What a damn fine multi-layered, complex, revealing, and sad work of art.

Scanning in film I’ve taken over the last few weeks.

Baking corn bread muffins, making puttanesca, and drinking tea.

Going home, seeing my mother, going to the dentist, doing important life things.

 

 

 

Cloudscapes and thoughtscapes

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Cornbread muffins are cooling on the counter and the smell feels like a blanket. It’s early for a Saturday night but I feel exhausted in more ways than one.

We made pizzas last night and I have finessed two more cover letters to a point where I feel like they communicate what I want: That I’m capable and kind. At this point, it feels like a task that will never end. When will I wake up at 7am to get ready to go to work again? When will I have coworkers? When will that quiet assurance of a paycheck coming into my hands happen?

On Monday I worked for a day for a temp agency, filling in an admin position in an office for the day. It felt good to pack a lunch and spend a day at a desk pretending I knew what I was doing. Poor pay but damn, it felt right to be working again. I’ve been working since I was fifteen, after all.

Life is not just that limbo of unemployment, though it can feel like it. We finally had rain, steady rain that gently soaked everything around it. It was cold and we turned on the heat in our home for the first time since we moved here almost four months ago. I have found a place near our house full of locals who tell each other great stories in the booths there. I have heard men discuss the abstract art market, how to properly care for cattle, the benefits of tea over coffee, and other conversational snippets that are lovely to hear. This week I devoured The Picture of Dorian Gray finally, after having a copy in the house for a month or two now. It was brilliant and sassy and everything Wilde means to me. I have always loved the audacity that Wilde writes with, the sheer wit and breakneck pace of conversation about seemingly useless things driving you to turn each page faster and faster. The ending was brilliant, the book was horrifying, and the dense description was fantastic.

Anyway, here are some clouds I photographed on film from the plane that took me to Victoria about a month ago. The sunset was the most incredible I’ve ever seen, and the clouds and sky were beyond words.